Friday 27 January 2017 17.06 GMT
Westminster will become the first council in the UK to charge drivers of diesel cars extra money to park as town halls across London battle air pollution.
The charge will be introduced for a trial period from April. Drivers of diesel-powered cars and vans will pay an additional 50%, which at current rates would be an extra £2.45 an hour to park on the street in Marylebone, one of the most polluted areas of the borough.
Vehicle emissions, particularly diesel fumes, are an increasingly pervasive problem in the capital, which breached its annual air pollution limit just five days into 2017. A cold snap with very still air, dense traffic and the popularity of wood-burning stoves combined to push London into a “very high” alert for air pollution this week, with scientists reporting the highest levels of particulates in the atmosphere in six years.
The alert prompted the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, to criticise the “shameful state of London’s toxic air” and called on the government to do more.
Cllr David Harvey, the Westminster city council cabinet member for the environment, sports and community, said: “Residents and visitors tell us all the time that air quality is a key concern in central London and we have consulted with our partners and local stakeholders on this practical step in improving our health and wellbeing.
“Additional charges for diesel vehicles will mean people think twice about using highly polluting cars and invest in cleaner transport that will make a real difference in the quality of air we breathe and our environment.”
Westminster city council says the extra money raised through the trial of the “polluter pays” parking scheme will be spent on boosting sustainable transport. If the scheme succeeds in changing people’s behaviour it could be rolled out to other parts of the borough, the council said.
The initiative is just one of the ways boroughs are trying to tackle what one local official described as a “public health emergency”, which has regularly seen the air quality in London breach legal limits. Transport for London and the mayor’s office are spending £13m on projects aimed at encouraging people to switch to electric cars.
Khan said last month that air pollution kills nearly 10,000 Londoners a year. He announced plans to spend more than £875m on improving air quality in the capital, more than doubling the amount pledged by his predecessor Boris Johnson. Khan is considering introducing additional charges for the oldest and most polluting vehicles, and plans to introduce an ultra-low emissions zone a year earlier than previously intended.
This week Hackney council announced it would be banning parking of any non-electric cars from several streets bordering the City financial district, again as part of efforts to tackle air pollution. The council will spend £1m, provided by the mayor’s office and TfL’s pro-electric cars fund, on installing vehicle charging points on the streets.
Hackney’s deputy mayor, Shirley Rodrigues, said: “Tackling London’s poor air quality is a public health emergency that requires bold action at all levels of government. These six innovative schemes will play a direct role cleaning up the toxic air in neighbourhoods across London, and could lead the way for similar schemes across the UK.”